On Wednesday night, CNN affiliate KMOV ran a report detailing an extramarital affair involving Missouri Republican Gov. Eric Greitens. Greitens released a statement acknowledging the affair but denying some of the more salacious allegations made by the woman’s ex-husband. For more on the story – and whether Greitens might be in danger of losing the office he was elected to in 2016 – I reached out to Jason Rosenbaum of St. Louis Public Radio. Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited for flow, is below.
Cillizza: Catch us up in where the allegations stand with Governor Greitens. And, what has he admitted to/denied?
Rosenbaum: Soon after Greitens made his State of the State address on Wednesday, a St. Louis television station aired a report detailing how the GOP governor had an extramarital affair before he officially announced his statewide office bid in 2015. The report featured an interview with the woman’s ex-husband, who was granted anonymity. It also featured a recording of the woman where she said Greitens took a compromising photo to prevent her from revealing the affair. In a statement, Greitens admitted to having an affair. But his attorney is forcefully denying the allegations that Greitens blackmailed the woman, which is what a lot of Missouri political figures are focusing on at this point in time. [“The governor denies that the picture was taken and denies stating the words attributed to him by her on the recording,” said Greitens attorney James Bennett Thursday afternoon. “Any allegation of violence is completely false. It never happened.”]
Cillizza: Did this come totally out of nowhere? He just ran a campaign in 2016. Was there any talk about this sort of stuff then?
Rosenbaum: There had been rumors about this particular allegation for weeks. Greitens made a lot of Republican and Democratic enemies since he launched his gubernatorial bid. One of his main talking points was that Jefferson City politicians were “corrupt” and he was going to be the guy to clean things up. And since taking office, he’s made some public policy moves that have deeply upset the state’s elected leaders – such as shutting down a popular tax incentive to cultivate low-income housing. His campaign staffers set up a politically-active nonprofit that doesn’t disclose its donors that attacked Republican senators, which is unprecedented. Needless to say, this is probably why not many people are sticking up for him at this early juncture.
Cillizza: What’s the reaction been in the Republican party so far? Standing behind Greitens? Calling on him to resign?
Rosenbaum: It depends. Some of the Republicans Greitens attacked over the past year are pretty gleeful. For instance, Sen. Rob Schaaf, who Greitens’ nonprofit attacked, tweeted out that you could “stick a fork” in Greitens. Republican Senate leadership issued a statement saying “Like many Missourians, we find these serious allegations shocking and concerning. As this situation is evolving, we expect the governor to be honest and forthright.” But at least one Democratic lawmaker, Sen. Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis, told me that the governor should step aside.
Cillizza: Prior to this, how have been the reviews of Greitens first year in office?
Rosenbaum: Mixed. Some Republicans were happy that Greitens signed long-standing priorities into law, including making it harder for people to file employment discrimination lawsuits. He also signed “right to work,” but that proposal is in limbo after unions got enough signatures to put it up for a statewide vote. Other GOP lawmakers feel that Greitens’ propensity to attack other lawmakers got in the way of being able to accomplish more, especially since this is the first time in modern history Republicans controlled the governor’s mansion and had large majorities in the General Assembly.
Cillizza: Finish this sentence: “Eric Greitens is in _________ trouble of losing his job.” Now, explain.
Greitens is considered a rising star in national political circles. But as mentioned before, he doesn’t have the robust support among elected political leaders to get a lot of back-up right now. Railing against “career politicians” can be an attractive message, but it can also have its downsides when those people have to pass your agenda.